First-Generation College Students and Their Pursuit of the American Dream

Banks-Santilli, Linda
Publication Year:
Journal of Case Studies in Education

First-generation college students, students whose parents have not earned a four-year degree, are not new to higher education, but their increasing presence at private, four-year institutions requires careful attention from administration and faculty. The rising costs of higher education combined with the nation's recent economic decline have made earning a college degree and achieving the American dream nearly impossible for these students. This qualitative research study seeks to understand the lives of first-generation college students at a small, private college in the Northeast. It draws on the analyses of demographic, interview, and case study data to examine the experiences of first-generation students and then to compare them to related research in the fields of sociology, psychology, and college access and preparation. The study results in three distinct case studies that provide insight into the individual lives of first-generation students. It concludes with specific steps this institution can take to respond to the needs of this growing population on its campus. Recommendations, though specific to the case, can be applied to other institutions facing similar challenges.

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